Founded 1762
FHS Newsletter - April 2023
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  Exploring the History of Ferrisburgh, Vermont
     Ferrisburgh Historical Society   

April 5, 2023

In this third issue of our History Notes, we're looking at the 'Twin Bridges of Ferrisburgh Center'.  

We have referenced historical newspapers that are available through the State of Vermont Archives and Records Administration; images from the Center for Digital Initiatives at UVM; the book  'A History of the Village of North Ferrisburgh, written by Jean Richardson (available either for purchase at our Town Offices, or for browsing through a link on our Town's website), and assorted other sources.

Silas Towler, President 
Driving along Little Chicago Road, just west of the Central School, you cross over both the railroad tracks and Little Otter Creek.  It's a crossing that's over in a few seconds.  But years ago, that little area was the scene of a lot of activity, and the location of a very dramatic pair of bridges.  The photo above shows how things looked from 1875 to 1903.  
F.W. Beers Atlas of Addison County, 1871 
The falls beneath the road bridge, long known as Fraser's Falls, were the site of some of Ferrisburgh's earliest saw and grist mills.  In the Vergennes Gazette of November 13, 1800, John Fraser lists for sale "600 acres, a large dwelling house, barn, and the Falls, on which are two saw-mills and a grist-mill".  The mills might have been operating and for sale by 1800, but Fraser stayed around, later buying other saw and grist mills above and below the falls. 
Vermont Patriot and State Gazette, Sept. 27, 1849 
In 1849, this neighborhood, the Town, and Addison County, experienced a huge change when the Rutland and Burlington Railroad was built.  Passenger and freight service through Ferrisburgh began in September of 1849.  A 160' long wooden covered railroad bridge was built to span the 100' deep chasm over Little Otter Creek, sitting alongside the covered road bridge carrying what we now know as Little Chicago Road.  Side by side covered bridges must have been quite a sight!   
Middlebury Register, March 5, 1872 
The impact of the railroad was huge.  As the article above states, by 1871 tons and tons of hay, pork, cheese, butter, and apples were being shipped from the Ferrisburgh depot to New York or Boston markets.  By 1870, at least 12 trains a day stopped at Vergennes.  People could ride 'the cars' to Burlington, Middlebury, and points beyond, and could get there far faster than a stagecoach or canal packet boat.   
Middlebury Register, June 22, 1875 
But, on Monday June 14, 1875, disaster struck Ferrisburgh Center.  Sparks from a passing freight train set fire to the railroad's covered bridge, and the fire quickly spread to the nearby road bridge and other structures.  In those days, there was not much one could do to fight a raging fire burning in a strong breeze.  Eventually, the railroad bridge collapsed into the Creek below.  The fire destroyed nearby mills, two homes, and the road bridge, while sparks flew to alight on homes and barns along the Stage Road(Route 7), a few hundred yards away.  Thankfully, those sparks were extinguished before much damage was done. 
Vergennes Enterprise and Vermonter, August 3, 1875 
Amazing as it may seem, the railroad bridge was replaced within 72 hours!!! A 160' long wooden bridge  was built in 72 hours!!!  Hard to imagine.  The Middlebury Register states that "O.B.Hanks & Co. cut and hauled, within 24 hours, eight loads of long, heavy timber, to aid in constructing a new RR bridge."  There must have been a large crew working around the clock.  Replacing the road bridge took more time, with the town taking two months to replace the wooden covered bridge with an arched metal one.  (as seen in the photo at the top of this email) 
Enterprise and Vermonter, January 1, 1868  
And time went on in this little neighborhood.  The mills all slowly died out and are now gone.  The Mr. Russell noted in the article above bought his mill in 1867, but by 1869 he'd sold it, to pursue his 'western fever'.  He went west.  Two creameries were built, and these, too, were lost to fires.  A neighborhood fire in 1919 destroyed a house, a large store block, and a wheelwright shop.  The store block was rebuilt, only to burn again in 1932.  That store's replacement was open as the KP Cook Store, until it closed around 1957 or 58.  That building still stands.  
The second covered railroad bridge was replaced by the current metal beam bridge in 1904.  The metal arch road bridge was replaced in the 1950's.  But, this being Vermont, that metal arch road bridge was sold, removed, and set down again to cross Lewis Creek on the Art Ashley farm, at the south end of Ashley Road. So I was told....
And the Depot? 
Addison Independent, September 12, 1958 
This is how the former depot looked for many years.  It's still a home, still across from the Central School, but it's been much enlarged in the years since 1958.   
Change is the constant in Ferrisburgh Center. More fires to come in future History Notes.  
Thanks for reading.  

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